On June 27th, 2017, Jessica Pierce and Amanda Carlton of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture interviewed Kara Dodson of Full Moon Farm at the King Street Market. Kara is in her first year farming with her partner Jacob Crigler. Their farm is called Full Moon Farm, and they grow vegetables with the help of horses in Triplett, North Carolina. Full Moon Farm received a Direct-to-Farmer grant from Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture in 2016-2017 to drill a well.
Jessica: What do you grow?
Kara: We grow a large variety of vegetables and fruits. Anything from kale, collards, and broccoli to melons, squash, and tomatoes. Lots of lettuce, lots of radishes, and turnips. It’s just a whole mix... a market garden is what they call it.
Jessica: How long have you been growing?
Kara: At our current location, this is our first season, so not even a full year of growing food there. Two years ago, I did a year-long internship, or an apprenticeship at a farm. So, I was growing there but it wasn’t my own system.
Jessica: Oh, nice. How many acres do you grow on right now?
Kara: Less than one acre. Three quarters of an acre.
Jessica: Other than the King Street Market, where else do you sell your produce?
Kara: We have a community market down in Triplett where we live. That’s every other Saturday. It’s something that we set up with our neighbors. And then, we have a CSA program. We have members of that and we sell to restaurants.
Jessica: Okay, very cool. How many people do you employ?
Kara: Um, no one! [laughter] Not even myself, it’s not like I get paid hourly or anything. [more laughter]
Amanda: What influenced you to get into farming?
Kara: Oh, everyone has lots of influences! I think, if I narrowed it down I always return to my childhood around horses. And, we use horses on our farm to plow and to log, and make hills for the plants. So, I was really driven by the fact that I could continue a relationship with horses and make an income... and work outside... and do this with my partner... and make a stronger community through farming. So, like some very all-encompassing ideas that I think that a lot of people farm for, you know, healthy living. You get to contribute to the people around you. I also love hard labor, as much as it is physically wearing, it's very invigorating too.
Amanda: And out of curiosity, is it more cost efficient to work with horses than a tractor?
Kara: It can be debated. I think it is. Everybody farms on a different income scale or like expenditure scale. The number one argument for horses is that they procreate. So, you can create more horse but you can’t create more tractors from breeding. Also, horses produce manure for compost, which is something we use on our farm. It is really beneficial for organic gardening. They’re my friends. They’re like my kids. So, even if I wasn’t using them they would be a part of my life. But horses are really affordable, you just have to know how to take care of them. Because if you own a horse and you work a horse, but you don’t know what you are doing, you’ll get in trouble financially or you’ll get hurt.
Jessica: So, what would you say makes your farm unique?
Kara: For us, I think we typically think the horses make us unique because not many people are doing horse farming on a market scale. But, I also think that we take an approach to farming that is very pagan. We’re trying to rediscover much older ways to work with the land and agriculture, like pre-European. It’s a very slow process. It’s not like something we can mark on an asset sheet and be like I do all these practices and it gives us this much money, but it is something that drives us to want to continue to search that ancestry. And the horses are part of that because people worked with horses for centuries before they had machinery.
Amanda: How have you seen farming change in our area?
Kara: I’m so new to it that it’s hard to answer that question. I think maybe people perceive us as hippies, or like very young kids doing something new. So, I think we are changing how other people view farming. Especially where we live, where we are amongst a much older population, people who are from here, and we are from Virginia, so we have a different accent, a different value system, maybe. Um… so I can’t say how I have seen farming change, but I can maybe speak to how people see us as different than what they know farming as.
Amanda: Do you think about climate change?
Kara: Oh yeah! [laughter] I mean the day Trump was elected president I wept for hours because I knew climate change was going to be much harder if impossible now to roll back. And that electing someone that could be so... evil... in terms of the environment was going to directly affect me as a farmer because there is now not going to be any top down regulation of the most problematic system. Which is our weather system, it changes everything. The rains that we have had this spring have created huge repercussions with all the diseases that we get, and the flooding that happens. It just changes things. And then last year we had that drought, and we had all these fires around us. I mean scary, you think your whole property could go up in flames. So yeah, climate change is definitely on our minds.
Amanda: Is growing food for your local community something radical or a form of activism?
Kara: [laughter] See, I was an activist for many years. I did community organizing for Appalachian Voices and I was like okay now my activism is farming. And in so many ways, you can say yes to that question and in more ways, in my life right now, I would say no. Because it is such a solitary act. When I can invite people in to be a part of farming, I can see it being helpful in either revolutionizing their concept of work or food for purpose. But beyond that, I mean... for me personally it’s not too much of activism right now, but it can be for a lot of people.
Amanda: Is the local food movement growing? And if so, how has it changed?
Kara: I’ve been in Boone six years, off and on, and I think the more I’ve gotten into agriculture the more I realize how many restaurants are into local food. Even if they don’t put your name on a board or put a farm’s name on a board, they are still buying local produce. So, I think that is a really cool thing to watch.
There is a lot of conversation about markets hitting a plateau. They became popular in the 90’s and 2000’s, and now they are hitting their mark of like capacity in terms of whether people show up, or what’s available, or the prices. So looking outside of those venues is really important.
Jessica: Can you talk about what you think is a common stereotype of a farmer? And, I know you mentioned before that it is kind of changing but...
Kara: Yeah! Um, a common stereotype... I think that they own a lot of land... maybe that they’re conservative... they’re male... they’re white... they are humble... they are Christian... those are stereotypes that I think are continually breaking down, but unfortunately not at a fast-enough rate. Older too! Which is a fact, it’s not even a stereotype. The average age of a farmer is 60 or 65. So yeah, it’s scary that much of our farming population is going to be dying or retiring. Farmer’s don’t retire though, they just die.
Jessica: Have you seen these stereotypes become barriers for you as a farmer?
Kara: Hmm, not yet. I guess I do realize that my husband will have conversations with people because we know it’s more socially acceptable than if I were to talk to a neighbor for help or someone at the government agency or someone who is delivering us something. So, being in a heterosexual relationship affords us that. I am also white so I am afforded a lot of privilege that way. And, people trust me automatically. It’s something that I just carry. So... I haven’t had too much difficulty yet. I have recieved grants, and we have applied for a USDA microloan. I applied for the loan as a woman and that seemed to help us for some small things.
Jessica: Well that kind of leads us into our next question, which is have you encountered opportunities?
Kara: Yeah, that would definitely be the case with the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture grant that we received and the one microloan that we received.
Jessica: What have been some of your biggest challenges to being a female farmer?
Kara: I think there is a lot of self-doubt that’s seeded when women are children. That has been something that I had to overcome. Like, you know... you’re not strong enough or you don’t know what you’re doing or you’re not attractive… like very little things that are seeded and now that I am at an age where I am trying to run a business... and be responsible for animals and the crops… and deal with just the regular stresses of farming, like keeping at bay those things that we’re taught... yeah... the brainwashing.
Jessica: Have you ever felt like quitting?
Kara: No! No...
Amanda: Who has supported you and helped you through your experience?
Kara: Oh gosh! [laughter] My parents have helped us a lot. Financially and emotionally, my parents have been very helpful. Jacob’s parents come up every other month and help out on a weekend. They don’t have a lot of time or money, but they are there to do stuff with us because they want to and they know it’s important. And, we have a lot of friends that just come out and help for free. So, maybe one day we would be able to hire people and that would be nice but, we get a lot of free help.
Amanda: Did you have a mentor, who was that, and in what ways did they help you?
Kara: My aunt was the first person who taught me how to work with horses. She taught me how to drive horses when I was like, 8... 10... 12 years old, that was a period of my life that I learned a lot. She taught me a lot about working with animals and harnessing power that animals provide. Also, that women can do things that men can do. And then, the person that actually taught me how to farm with horses lives around here. His name is Ian Snider. He taught me the more hands-on skills of how crops grow using horse power because it’s a very specific system. As with any tool you use, it kind of defines how you farm. So, yeah Ian was really helpful for that and his wife Kelly, too. She had a two-year-old at the time that I was apprenticing at their farm, so seeing how a mother has her kid with her when they are farming. Or how that just drives your incentives to be out in the field.
Kara: Yeah! Definitely. It was really cool.
Amanda: How has Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture supported or affected your work?
Kara: I mean, just knowing that Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture is there is helpful. Knowing that I can go ask for any kind of advice or the fact that the staff knows so many people, like they might not have the answer but they know who might. So, I like that a lot.
Jessica: Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture was started as a space for female farmers to learn how to grow food and develop agricultural enterprises. Which was 20 years ago, how have they affected our local food system and supported female growers?
Kara: Oh gosh! [laughter] I think not enough people know about Blue Ridge Women in Ag, you know? The people that do know about Blue Ridge Women in Ag can list off the events that they have held and the workshops. Or, how their kids have learned from maybe something they have done, like the Seed Saving Library. That’s just amazing! And then the fact that they also tie in: ‘we’ll help farmers get money and we’ll help you get that equipment that you need.’ They are also really good at tying into other non-profits and sharing that marketing of what they do. So yeah, they have really left a huge impact.
BRWIA PROFILE PROJECT
Each month we do our best to profile a Woman in Agriculture in our region. These women are diverse - they have come from a variety of backgrounds and include farmers, homesteaders, and activists. They exemplify the multitude of ways women are working to connect with and change our food system.
Female Farmer Profile Project
The BRWIA Profiles evolved out of the Female Farmer Profiles which can be found archived HERE.